Today’s harmful Christmas gift of the day is a special one. It’s an item that almost always has good intentions, but generally makes people feel so much worse about themselves and their situations instead. I’m talking about generic and traditionally misplaced Tropical Beach Wall Calendars.
This item is special for more than one reason, however. Of all the things sold at Amazon.com (where I picked this item way too often), this item, far and away, has the most specific and narrow customer base. We’ll get to that. Here’s a picture:
Unless you were extremely fortunate, very intelligent (and even so) or had a lot of help from much wealthier, more successful family members or friends, we’ve all had miserable jobs that we’ll never really be able to emotionally overcome. Some of us have had them since we were sixteen years old, and some still have one today, even after graduating from a pretty good college with a pretty good academic record (me me me!)
These jobs can be in any industry, and can involve any number of demeaning tasks or unfortunate coworkers, but as different as they can be from one another, there is one unmistakable similarity.
Your name is Paul in my scenario (substitute Paulie for Paul, all my wonderful female readers!). You’re working in the back room at Target, unloading trucks and stocking shelves and trying to avoid talking to people that you know you’ll never be able to have an interesting conversation with (you do this by pretending you’re more busy than you really are, and, if you have one of those scanner guns, always looking down at it as if you’re trying to figure something out on it).
There are only 10 minutes left to go in your 11-hour day (mandatory overtime. Retail really knows how to ruin Christmas). You’re a strong, driven person, but even you can’t bring yourself to be productive during the last ten minutes. You’re in a terrible mood, and your manager has shoved so many annoying “management” phrases down your throat that you’re probably not even going to have dinner tonight.
After a lap around the store (picking the aisles the managers don’t typically walk past, of course), you decide to park yourself next to the time clock, placed in, generally, the most unattractive part of the store: next to the long out-of-order water cooler, the store’s collection of retired brooms, and that cart no one uses because, for some reason, every third or fourth rotation of the wheel commands an extraordinary amount of friction that stops you in your tracks. There’s not a whole lot to look at while you wait…
But there is one thing that doesn’t belong, something that stands out above all of the gray, colorless objects and paint jobs, and demands your attention: the tropical beach wall calendar, purchased by the recently promoted manager who’s been working at Target forever and has no management experience. He’s trying to “change” the workplace and make waves his first few weeks. This was his first order of business and his first purchase.
His intentions are as follows: he thinks you (and other employees) will appreciate being able to stare at the calendar’s generic, poorly produced photograph of a beach that you’ve never been to. Just for a moment, he assumes, you’ll be able to take yourself away from your work situation, and feel at peace as you imagine yourself relaxing on this far-away beach. Actually, this is what every middle manager in America thinks when he buys one of these for his office or his warehouse or his break room.
The reality? We look at this thing with palpable frustration, anger, hopelessness and disgust… because, in reality, we know that we’re not at this beach, relaxing and possibly enjoying time with a woman who is much too attractive to be spending time with us anyway. We’re working at a retail store hundreds of miles from the nearest beach, and maybe thousands of miles from a beach that you don’t have to pay to get on, just to find out you’re not allowed in the water today (i.e. the dirty New Jersey Boardwalk and Shore). We’ll never be able to afford to get to this beach, and would never have the time to even if we could. Retail is a very busy line of work, after all.
The calendar’s beach locations feel more fictional to us than the exotic role-playing worlds of the video games we stocked all morning. Instead of taking us away from our workplace for a moment, they solidify and confirm our worries and fears that we’re going to be working here a lot longer than we originally anticipated. Middle managers: stop buying these for your employees. You’re promoting, and maybe even enticing total loss of hope.
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